Surrounded by East End farmers in the middle of Mark and Emilie Zaweski’s cabbage and cauliflower patch in Northville Thursday morning, the Peconic Land Trust and the Long Island Farm Bureau added their voices to the chorus of environmentalists supporting this November’s ballot referendum extending the Community Preservation Fund to 2050.
The support of the farming community, which has long backed and benefited from the CPF land preservation program, is significant for this ballot initiative, which also allows the five East End towns to use up to 20 percent of the money raised for water quality projects, in addition to land preservation.
“So much on the East End wouldn’t be here without it,” said Peconic Land Trust President John v.H. Halsey of the CPF, adding that the 20 percent for water quality “will help assure a clean and safe water supply.”
Mr. Halsey added that it will be up to each individual town to decide how much of the 20 percent they’d like to spend on water quality projects, making it possible for towns such as Southold, which still plans to focus on farmland preservation, to continue the work they’re currently doing, while making resources available for towns that wish to pursue water quality projects.
Long Island Farm Bureau Public Policy Director Jessica Anson agreed, noting that preserving agricultural soils is part of a broader mission with goals ranging from allowing farms to transition to future generations to providing resiliency against climate change to helping farmers adopt best management practices.
Ms. Anston pointed out that the CPF has already raised more than $1 billion in the past 17 years, and has preserved 10,000 acres of land on the East End.
Sagaponack farmer Jennifer Pike, whose farm, which had been on rented land, was slated to be sold by its owner nearly a decade ago, was able to keep farming with her husband, Jim Pike, due to the preservation of their land through both the efforts of the Peconic Land Trust and Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund.
“We likely would not be there today without the Peconic Land Trust and the Community Preservation Fund,” she said. “Please support this measure.”
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County Executive Director Vito Minei also agreed.
“Adding up to 20 percent for water quality improvements is tremendous,” said Mr. Minei, whose organization has a robust marine program as well as its agricultural program. “To make it part of an initiative like this is a tremendous enhancement.”
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who drafted the original Community Preservation Fund law that was approved back in 1998 and has carefully overseen the CPF in ensuing years, said “the support from the Peconic Land Trust and the Long Island Farm Bureau is not just today. They’ve been there from the beginning.”
“Using up to 20 percent for water quality is a win-win situation,” he said, adding that the extension from the current sunset of 2030 to 2050 will likely generate $1.5 billion more dollars.
“Throughout the East End towns, there are still many more acres, particularly on the North Fork, that need to be protected,” he said. “But if we protect the land but people can’t swim in the bays or go fishing, you haven’t protected anything at all.”
The ballot referendum will be Proposition 1 on the back side of ballots in all five East End towns on Nov. 8, and one of the major goals of lawmakers in recent weeks has been to raise public awareness that voters will need to flip their paper ballots over to cast votes for the referendum.
“On the front side is all the candidates, and I’ve started calling that the “R-Rated” side of the ballot, but if you flip it over, that’s Rated G,” he said. “You can discuss the propositions with your children. It’s no problem. It’s probably the most important thing on the ballot for the East End.”
State Senator Kenneth LaValle, who showed up a bit late for the press conference, shared that sentiment.
“I’m here to support your effort to have people flip the ballots over,” he said.